PARL and the International Religious Liberty Association
The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) has strong ties to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to the PARL department, yet it is today an independent and non-sectarian organization that works to promote freedom of religions or belief for all people, everywhere, no matter what their faith tradition. All PARL staff are either officers of IRLA or support staff, although these are voluntary positions, in keeping with IRLA's charter.
History of the IRLA
In 1889, during an assembly in the Tabernacle in Battle Creek, Michigan, 110 Adventist leaders decided to charter a new association to promote and defend religious freedom. The church had been very active, publishing a magazine called The Sentinel. But it needed an association which could respond more specifically to challenges against religious liberty.
They named it the National Religious Liberty Association.
The idea was well received outside of North America and in 1893 the association became the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). Later on, as books and brochures were published, church leaders organized the Library of Religious Liberty. Then the church set up the Bureau of Religious Liberty. In 1901 the General Conference established the Department of Religious Liberty. In 1909 Liberty, the name given in 1906 to the magazine, had a full page for the Religious Liberty Association. It listed 11 regional associations which included foreign countries such as Australia and Great Britain.
In 1946 the IRLA opened its membership to non-Adventists. Today the IRLA has members from many different religions and beliefs, including non-believers. The purpose of the association is “To defend, promote and protect religious freedom for all people everywhere.” The definition of religious freedom is that given in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
The IRLA Panel of Experts is made up of a majority of non-Adventists. But the IRLA Board of Directors has a majority of Adventists. In spite of that, the current president and several vice presidents are not members of the Adventist Church.
No one receives a salary from the IRLA or its regional associations. All are expected to work on a voluntary basis.
Its goal is to bring people together, no matter what their religion or background, for the purpose of promoting religious freedom for all people. To this end, all association meetings give space and voice to non-Adventists, and invited guests represent a broad cross-section of the religious, academic, legal and political communities.
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The IRLA and its regional associations promote the principle of religious freedom. This will undoubtedly yield benefits for the Adventist Church, but that narrow goal is neither the stated nor actual purpose of the IRLA. Its purpose is much wider and is concerned for the rights of all people, no matter what their faith (or lack of faith).
Through the years, the IRLA has worked in partnership with regional and national associations in about 80 countries. Some are active, such as those in Colombia, Brazil, Russia, Romania, Italy, Croatia, and Poland. Some are moderately active, and some are in a state of hibernation. In 2003, IRLA decided to encourage every country to organize its own national association rather than being a national chapter of the IRLA. In Brazil the name of the association is the Brazilian Association for Religious Liberty and Citizenship (ABLRIC). In Romania it is Conscience and Liberty Association. Both are quite active and both are well recognized by the government of their country. Some of the European countries are under the umbrella of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR).
Relationship between PARL and the IRLA
The IRLA is an independent organization, but with strong links to the church and to the PARL department. In practice, this means that the church supports the IRLA and its national associations. Further, it is understood and accepted that the PARL director of the church will be the Secretary General or the Executive Director of the association. However, it is not necessary for the President of the association to be a Seventh-day Adventist—and, in fact, it can be very helpful for this position to be filled by a non church member. In some countries the Adventist Church fully supports the association but decides to keep it exclusively Adventist. In that case, the union or conference president will be the President of the association. But regardless of leadership—whether exclusively Adventist or not—the IRLA and its national associations respect the following principles:
When we represent the association, the title we use is that of the association. In the IRLA world congresses, the division presidents are the IRLA regional presidents. The union or conference presidents become the national presidents. All the division PARL directors become IRLA regional Secretary Generals.
Association events are public events, not church events. We promote freedom of religion or belief as defined by Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, and we work on behalf of all people, no matter what their faith tradition.